First discovered at age 16 by a fashion photographer who helped get her early commercial gigs, Preston made her acting debut on a 1980 episode of “Hawaii Five-O” at age 18. It was a natural fit for the actress who was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Born Kelly Kamalelehua Smith, Preston was still working on her stage name in the early 1980s and was credited as Kelly Palzis – her stepfather’s last name - in her early career.
By the time the actress had landed her first big film role in 1985’s “Mischief”, she changed her name to Preston which, she would use throughout her career. The mid-1980s saw her gain increasingly larger parts in movies, including “SpaceCamp” opposite Lea Thompson and Tate Donovan as a group of teens who accidentally get sent into space.
Romance For Preston
In 1985, Preston married actor Kevin Gage. The pair divorced in 1987 and Preston later had a relationship with George Clooney in the late 1980s. She was also briefly engaged to Charlie Sheen in 1990 but it was reported that the relationship ended after he allegedly shot her in the arm – a claim she denied.
Preston first met John Travolta in 1987 when they starred in the comedy “The Experts”.
Preston married Travolta on September 5, 1991, by jetting to Paris on the Concorde to tie the knot. A second ceremony was required because the first, performed by a French minister of Scientology was deemed invalid. On September 12, they had a legal U.S. ceremony in Florida.
With Travolta, Preston welcomed three children: Jett born in 1992, Ella Bleu in 2000, and Benjamin in 2010. Son Jett was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease as an infant, was autistic, and suffered from seizures throughout his life. Preston promoted Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “Purification Rundown” in helping her son.
Some of Preston’s most memorable roles came in the 1990s: opposite Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire”, “Addicted To Love”, “Nothing To Lose”, “Holy Man”, “For Love Of The Game”, and “Jack Frost”.
Tragically, at age 16, Jett died following a seizure while the family was on vacation in the Bahamas.
It was later revealed the family was the subject of a multi-million extortion plot over the circumstances surrounding their son’s death. An EMT, Bahamian senator and a parliament member were arrested and charged, though Preston and Travolta eventually elected to drop the case.
Throughout her career, Preston made several guest appearances on TV shows, including “Friends” spinoff “Joey”, “Medium”, “Fat Actress” and “CSI: Cyber”. The actress also made a cameo in Maroon 5’s 2004 song “She Will Be Loved”.
Both Preston and Travolta lent their names and time to several charitable causes over the years, mostly directed towards helping children, including the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. She was a board member of the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition and was an advocate against the over-medication of children, in particular kids with ADD. She and Travolta also founded the Jett Travolta Foundation, which “assists and provide relief to children with vision, hearing, mobility, communication, behavior learning impairments or other special medical, environmental, health or educational needs,” according to their site.
Teaming Up With Travolta
“The Experts” wasn’t the only film to feature Preston and Travolta. Over the course of their careers, the couple worked together a number of times, including on “Battlefield Earth”, “Old Dogs”, and, in what is one of her final appearances, Travolta’s passion project “Gotti”, the biopic of John Gotti.
Final Film Role
Though she had cut back on acting following the birth of son Benjamin, Preston did act occasionally through the 2010s. At the time of her death she had one final film in post-production awaiting release. She will be seen in “Off The Rails”, a comedy about four women in their 50s who recreate the European train trip they took in their youth, with a teen daughter taking the place of her late mother fulfil her dying wish.
Death From Breast Cancer
Travolta and daughter Ella Bleu made the sad announcement that Preston had lost her two-year battle with breast cancer on July 12, 2020, in touching Instagram posts. The family had kept her diagnosis private for the final two years of her life. She passed away at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Touching Tribute From Travolta
“It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my beautiful wife Kelly has lost her two-year battle with breast cancer. She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many. My family and I will forever be grateful to her doctors and nurses at MD Anderson Cancer Center, all the medical centers that have helped, as well as her many friends and loved ones who have been by her side,” Travolta wrote on Instagram.
“Kelly’s love and life will always be remembered. I will be taking some time to be there for my children who have lost their mother, so forgive me in advance if you don’t hear from us for a while. But please know that I will feel your outpouring of love in the weeks and months ahead as we heal.
All my love,
‘Courageous, Strong, Beautiful’
“I have never met anyone as courageous, strong, beautiful and loving as you.
Anyone who is lucky enough to have known you or to have ever been in your presence will agree that you have a glow and a light that never ceases to shine and that makes anyone around you feel instantly happy,” Ella Bleu wrote in part of her tribute to her mother on Instagram.